Tuesday, September 6, 2011

School supplies

School is upon us, and that means school supplies.
I love those things, ever since I was a kid. New white erasers, all their corners still sharp. Mechanical pencils. Pens, in all their varied colours and types. Reams of paper, notebooks, binders, all of it. I was one of the kids that lobbied my parents to be given that rare treasure, the “mechanical eraser.” Anyone remember that thing? A long white cylindrical eraser encased in a plastic tube with a mechanism to push it out as you used it up. It made a very satisfying clicking noise, as I recall. I’m sure I drove many teachers to add a dollop of Kahlua to their coffees because of that persistent noise. Click-click-click. Eraser out. Click-click-click. Eraser safely back in.
The point is, that unlike many parents, I look forward to getting new school supplies. I don’t even begrudge the ridiculous amount of money that’s required to equip a student for school. What does bother me is when the supplies of one child are “lent” to another.
For some reason, I foolishly assumed this didn’t happen. I learned better when I found one of our pencils (painstakingly labelled, as directed) in the grubby hands of another kid. The teacher confessed that if someone doesn’t have what they need, someone else will be called on to “loan” the needy kid a pencil, eraser, whatever. Fine. Sharing is grand. A useful lesson to learn. But what I resent is being one of the parents who meticulously provides everything asked for, only to have it co-opted by the students of less careful parents. Sure, it’s not the kid’s fault his/her parents are lazy or cheap, but it’s even less my fault.
(Note that I don’t say those parents are poor. I am aware that poverty is often blamed as a factor for a lack of school supplies. I get it; they’re expensive. In our community, however, I know people who work at the “poor” schools, and the same parents who send their kids to school with nothing are the ones who smoke, drink, and buy their groceries at 7-11. Yes, they are poor, and wouldn’t be rich even if they magically found a way to better balance their budgets. What I’m suggesting is that they could get all the school supplies they wanted if they skipped out on buying five cases of beer or a few cartons of cigarettes.)
Not only do some kids show up with half or less of what they need, the quality is often lacking. With the rise of “dollar stores,” you can buy a lot of pencils for a buck, but they all suck. The lead inside is pre-broken (and it probably IS lead instead of graphite) and the same flaws are found in all the stuff there. Cheaply made garbage. School supply lists often explicitly state “no dollar store pencils,” it’s gotten that bad.
Why doesn’t the school division step in here? Wal-Mart has proven that there is power in purchasing in bulk. The division could order all the loot needed and likely save a few shekels along the way. Budgets aren’t limitless, but I guarantee they could find the money to do this: there isn’t an administrative or bureaucratic organization out there that couldn’t trim a little fat to find money if pushed. This is not a new idea, and is done by schools all over the world. So get to it! The education system in this country needs a major overhaul, but this would be a small, easy place to start.
I bet you’d suddenly find those “your child needs this” school supply lists get a lot shorter, too, if the division was on the hook for the money to pay. Does my child really need a different edition of a French-English dictionary each year? Has French changed that much in six months? Don’t you still say “I am wearing green pants” the same way every year?


  1. Our oldest's school has a policy where they buy school supplies in bulk if you just give them a cheque. Easy peasy and they made a deal with a local stationary store so I didn't have to pay very much. (You know the one, down by the railroad tracks.) I know they got a good discount since I bought Middle Child's school supplies in the same place and paid $20 more for her stuff than I did Oldest Child's.
    Last year our middle child's school had a no-latex policy so I was required to them a cheque and they took care of everything.
    I used to LOVE buying school supplies (what is it about the smell of fresh crayons and paper? It's intoxicating.) But I am quickly becoming a fan of letting the schools do the heavy lifting. I am sure the teachers like it too since they get exactly what the need with no substitutions.
    If you want it for your child's school you might just have to lobby the parent council.

  2. Looks like I have a project for the year!

    I also admire the way you got all the details across without listing any personal data (store by the tracks, Oldest child, etc).

  3. Sorry about the typos. I was trying to get my point across in between crises.
    It's too bad the entire school division can't get their act together, but there is hope if at least some schools do it, right?

    Oh, and it is not my first time around the bloggy block. I know how to make things have Just Enough detail!!